Dr Angela Monahan groaned as she checked her calendar for the day. Valerie-Dawn Morton at 4.30. Christ. Bugger. Shit.
Angela was burning out fast and she knew it. Valerie-Dawn was her least favourite patient. It wasn’t because Valerie-Dawn was depressed, or anxious, or traumatised from being seriously bullied when she was a kid. It wasn’t because she cried at work every day, or that she didn’t have any friends, or that she complained incessantly at every session about her depression, the crying and that she didn’t have any friends. It was because she was fat. That was it. Valerie-Dawn was fat.
“I’m a fattist”, thought Angela. “A fattist arsehole. Dr Angela Fattist Arsehole”, she added. She had a couple of really, really fat clients. Like not just big. These people were massive. Corpulent. Morbidly obese, couldn’t- fit- their –arses- in- Angela’s -counselling -chair type of fat.
Valerie-Dawn had first come to see Angela because she wanted to lose weight. She was depressed and anxious and traumatised from being bullied, but Valerie-Dawn wouldn’t have that, she just wanted to lose weight. Angela liked to start where her clients were at, so she went with it and hypothesised to herself that they’d get to the trauma eventually.
“So, Valerie-Dawn, what do you think your life be like if you lost weight?” Angela asked her at about 4.35pm that afternoon.
“Well, I’d be thinner” said Valerie Dawn emphatically.
“And, what would life be like if you were thinner”?
“Well, I’d look better, wouldn’t I?”
“And if you were thinner, your life would be…”
“What?” spat Valerie-Dawn.
“You tell me what life would be like if you were thinner”.
“Well…….um… I…. I might like myself better” said Valerie Dawn quietly.
“Ah, and if you liked yourself better…”
Valerie-Dawn looked as though she might cry. Angela sat still and gazed at her. Her thoughts wandered. Jabba the Hutt came to mind and she marvelled that Jabba the Hutt was crying. Or was it that big fat wrinkly alien from Dr Who, whose name escaped her just then? Maybe Valerie-Dawn was a combination of the two, mixed in with a bit of sumo wrestler and one of those dogs that have hundreds of wrinkly skin folds that get infected and cover the poor little bastard’s eyes – a Shar-pei or something. Valerie-Dawn had wrinkly jowls like a Shar-pei, and Angela could see that Valerie-Dawn’s cankles had grown since the last time she’d seen her. Must be retaining fluid, she thought.
Valerie-Dawn’s corpulent face was getting red and there was snot streaming from her nose and her chin was wobbling from the effort of trying not to cry. She screwed up her eyes and shouted.
“I might like myself better! I’ll like myself!”
Angela started slightly, recovered quickly, and nodded. “And if you liked yourself, then…”
There was silence for a few moments and Valerie-Dawn heaved her enormous bosom and shifted her massive bottom in the chair a little, well, as much as her squashed hips would allow. She looked at Angela with hatred, with vitriol, and opened her mouth. Angela thought Valerie-Dawn might vomit.
“But I don’t fucken like myself do I? I fucken hate myself!”
Angela waited, knowing there was more.
“You know what? I had chocolate Freddos for breakfast today, and I had six Krispy Kremes at morning tea; there was a farewell for Damien who’s leaving. I took the leftovers, I took the box of leftover Krispy Kremes into the toilets and I ate them in there so no-one could see me. I felt sick but I just stuffed them in. And I had a chicken schnitzel sandwich and a bucket of chips for lunch, and tonight I’m gunna have dim sims”. Valerie Dawn was panting and she folded her arms across her chest.
“Jesus”, thought Angela. She couldn’t bring herself to ask the next “what would life be like”? question.
“You really do hate yourself don’t you?” she asked instead.
Then, Valerie-Dawn did something Angela had never seen an adult do. Valerie-Dawn heaved a huge deep breath in, and then held it. Her face blew out like a giant scarlet puffer-fish. Angela waited for the exhalation, but it didn’t come. She was used to sitting in silence, letting the story formulate, so she decided to just sit and wait.
Angela was fascinated and stared at Valerie-Dawn’s big round face and her tiny piggy eyes and her now-puce skin. And she waited. And still Valerie-Dawn didn’t breathe.
“Exhale Valerie-Dawn. Exhale” commanded Angela. “Valerie-Dawn! Breathe out”.
But Valerie-Dawn would not. Angela could see beads of sweat gathering above Valerie-Dawn’s pale, sparse eyebrows. Angela got out of her chair, walked across the room to Valerie- Dawn and crouched down, her face even with Valerie-Dawn’s and blew hard and suddenly into her face. It was something she used to do when her cat was a kitten, and wouldn’t retract its claws out of Angela’s arm when she was playing with her. Like a circuit breaker. Angela wasn’t sure if there was anything in the psychology literature about this technique, but she did it anyway.
Valerie-Dawn let out a huge, stale breath and Angela rocked back on her heels. She felt like she was trapped in a wind tunnel. Valerie-Dawn wobbled her head a little and Angela could see her massive chest and stomach heaving, as she struggled to regain control of her breath.
Angela returned to her chair and gazed at Valerie-Dawn, feeling a little in awe of Valerie-Dawn’s steely determination to stop breathing; the colour of her face, the way she’d just suddenly made the decision to hold her breath. Valerie-Dawn was panting, and Angela was aware of her own heart racing and she made a conscious decision to breathe slowly and deeply and within a few moments Valerie-Dawn was mirroring her, and she began to relax a bit.
“I need to go to the toilet” said Valerie-Dawn. She extricated herself from her chair and opened the door of the consulting room. “Where’s the key?”
Angela got up and retrieved the key to the women’s toilets from behind reception, and watched Valerie-Dawn limp, like a penguin swaying from side to side, out the backdoor and up the pathway to the toilet block.
“Jesus Christ on a bike”, thought Angela, and went back into her room and picked up her phone to text her partner.
“Jesus” she wrote. “Valerie-Jabba the Hutt–Dawn just tried to kill herself in my office”.
“WTF?” wrote Claire. “Are you ok? What happened?”
Angela liked that Claire asked first if she was ok, and then what happened. Claire was good like that. Claire is a much better therapist than me, she thought. Claire is a good person. Be like Claire, she thought.
“She just held her breath and went purple”.
“What? Where is she now?”
“In the toilet”.
“Christ! Did she really think she’d suicide by doing that? Holding her breath like a little kid?”
“Dunno. I’ll ask her in a minute. See you at home honey. Oi vey”.
Angela could hear Valerie-Dawn clumping back across the wooden floorboards of the waiting room, toss the key on the reception desk and then wobbled her way back into the room. She slumped heavily into the chair.
“Do you want some water”?
“Nuh”. Angela poured some anyway.
The two women stared at each other, Valerie-Dawn’s eyes narrowed and she put her tongue into the inside of her cheek, and pushed her head back into the chair. This action gave her an extra chin. This was Valerie-Dawn’s defiant look, and it pissed Angela off no end. But Angela decided she needed to admonish herself for being such an arrogant fattist; this woman needed her help, not her condemnation. But, she also wanted to see how long Valerie-Dawn could hold her breath. She wrestled with her conscience a few moments, picked up her pen and notepad, crossed her legs and cleared her throat.
“So, Valerie-Dawn”, began Angela, “what do you think your life would be like if you keep on hating yourself?”